Preventing war by fulfilling needs

  • Published
  • By Irregular Warfare/Medical Stability Operations Division
  • AFSOC Surgeon General's Office
Dr. Abraham Maslow, in his Theory of Human Motivation, states that humans have basic physiological needs such as food, clothing and shelter which must first be satisfied before higher order psychological and emotional needs can be fulfilled. In a similar fashion, a nation must provide basic needs of its population before the country's higher needs and aspirations can be met. Medical and health care are considered some of those basic needs but are often unmet in lesser-developed countries, many of which are partner nations with the U.S. When these basic needs go unmet, a population is receptive to any group or entity that can provide them.

In countries whose populations' basic needs are not being met and are also battling insurgencies, whatever side, government or insurgent, can provide these basic needs and services to the population will usually win the population's support and emerge the victor in the conflict. Thus, winning the influence of the population is a goal of governments in counterinsurgency and stability operations, and winning the hearts and minds often starts with the government providing the population's basic needs, including medical care.

Counterinsurgency and stability operations are a current Department of Defense focus in Afghanistan and other areas where the U.S. government is assisting partner nations defeat insurgencies. This focus is so important that a new policy was recently issued that directed military medical units to plan and prepare for medical stability operations. This policy establishes for the first time that medical stability operations have a DOD priority comparable to combat operations.

Last year, to better prepare Air Force Special Operations Command medical personnel to meet these challenges, the AFSOC surgeon general, Brig. Gen. Bart Iddins, established the AFSOC Irregular Warfare/Medical Stability Operations Division to organize, train and equip AFSOC medical forces to support counterinsurgency and stability operations.

This division plans, coordinates, and de-conflicts medical and health care missions using AFSOC medical forces to support the U.S. combatant command's theater security cooperation objectives. Currently, the division's focus is supporting Africa Command and their special operation command component, SOCAFRICA. The division works to send AFSOC medical personnel to impoverished and troubled areas within Africa, supporting SOCAFRICA's counterinsurgency and stability operations in African partner nations.

"The medical field is crucial to the success of the counterinsurgency facet of irregular warfare," said Lt. Col. Michael Hartzell, chief of the IW/MSO Division. "The focus [of counterinsurgency] is not on military combat, but on winning the support of a population by helping them meet their basic security needs for food, water, and health care. The conflict is defined by who can support the population best."

In May 2010, the first two dental teams out of Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. and Hurlburt Field, Fla., fulfilled month-long temporary duty assignments on the African continent that were coordinated by the new division. During this time, the Airmen trained and educated local and military dentists, as well as provided dental care to nearly 1,000 citizens in Mauritania, Senegal and Burkina Faso in West Africa.

The division selected and procured lightweight, portable dental equipment that could be transported easily and utilized in an area without the backup power or replacement parts easily accessible in developed nations.

"The people we were supporting were in severely underdeveloped areas-- people that were living in mud huts and didn't have a lot of medical options," said Staff Sgt. Leah Potter, team member and 1st Special Operations Medical Group dental technician.

Along with optometry and veterinary services, dental services are highly sought after and provide some of the longest-lasting impacts on the health and welfare of a target population as has been shown by past Medical Civic Action Programs.

With these medical missions, line commanders can now see the importance the medical field has in irregular warfare and stability operations, not just as a supporting force, but as a force that can help commanders achieve important tactical and operational objectives such as establishing rapport with and access to a population.

"Medical is now being used as a supported force in counterinsurgency operations.This differs from the supporting role medical has historically played." Colonel Hartzell said. "Many commanders who have not had much experience with this medical role are unaware of the doors medical can open and how critical it can be to the counterinsurgency strategy."

Additionally, he said AFSOC is key for these types of missions in Africa since the vast distances and lack of infrastructure means many missions and operations require specialized air transport.

"We are able to provide theater mobility, we have non-standard aviation assets, and we are familiar with working in a joint environment and under rugged, austere conditions," he said.